Toon Musings: Supremacy Isn’t Green
So here we sit, in the murky wake of a hotly contested election, watching the actual President having an actual temper tantrum, refusing to accept the results—and fully supported in this effort by the leadership of his actual political party, which—allegedly—is composed of actual adult-ass grown-ups! Incredible! How did we get to this pretty pass? I blame the Internet (and Newt Gingrich, but that’s a rant for another time).
While the Internet is a wondrous tool, placing the veritable world and any smartphone-user’s fingertips, it also corrupts everything it touches, giving a forum and meeting place to the worst dregs of society, and also giving them an inflated sense of their own normalcy.
Do you doubt the Web’s corrosive power? Well, are you familiar with the Rules of the Internet? My first encounter was while I was doing a web search for something (it doesn’t matter what). A few pages into the results, I discovered an example of Rule 34. For those of you of delicate sensibility or too lazy to follow my link, Rule 34 states that if it exists, “there is porn of it. No exceptions.” Perhaps a rule more pertinent to my discussion today is Rule 15: “The more beautiful and pure a thing is, the more satisfying it is to corrupt it.”
The Internet has democratized publishing, giving anyone with access to a web-connected computer the power to communicate with the world. It’s completely upended the way news is disseminated; the comics industry has also been totally changed. But this power is a double-edged sword. By way of example, take a moment to consider Pepe the Frog.
Created by a thrift store worker for his comic Boy’s Club, Pepe lived in a house eating pizza and playing video games with his slacker roommates. He had a catchphrase, “Feels good, man,” which explained why he pulled his pants all the way down to “go peepee.” His creator by all accounts seems to be a gentle soul, and didn’t really even seem to mind when his frog started showing up in other people’s memes. At first it was the slacker community, who saw him as one of their own; fair enough. Then the bodybuilding community began celebrating how it “feels good” after a workout. But shortly thereafter Pepe spread to the famous Internet sewer 4chan, where anonymous users began appropriating Pepe for their own purposes. There is doubtless some overlap between the slacker subculture and the Incels (involuntary celibates), and they brought their anger to the table. This is where Rule 15 began to assert itself, since on 4chan, clicks = popularity and lurid sensationalism gets clicks. Shortly thereafter, the white supremacist community hijacked Pepe as their mascot. Now Matt Furie, Pepe’s creator, has a garage full of merch he can’t sell because, y’know, Nazis. The whole fascinating, excruciating process is laid out in the recent PBS Independent Lens documentary Feels Good Man, which you can watch for free online, but only for another week, so get crackin’!
As a cartoonist, Furie’s story has a special resonance for me. We draw because we want to express something and maybe entertain people, and maybe, possibly have something of ours click and get discovered by the World at Large and bring us some measure of Fame and Fortune, or at least a halfway decent living. To have a beloved creation get stolen by angry, nihilistic scumbags and repellant political operatives is pure, distilled Nightmare Fuel. And this is the world we live in. Thanks, Internet! Now, to leave on a positive note, Matt Furie is trying to reclaim Pepe, and the artist community has his back. Go to the Peace Pepe Database of Love and feel better.
Phil Maish is a freelance cartoonist of no repute. His modest efforts may be viewed at myth-fits.com. He has worked for the Government, the Press, the Opera, and a Soulless Corporation. Self-taught and beholden only to his formidable wife and amazing son, he spends his free time gadding about in his vintage autogyro and, with his faithful manservant Nicopol, exploring forgotten ruins, discovering hitherto unknown animal species, smashing spy rings, and regaling fellow members of the League of Intrepid Adventurers with tales of his intrepid adventures.